André de Ruyter had a year from hell – and then he lost his political cover
As he faced down sabotage, a week of savage attacks by the Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and a grid in freefall on his own, Eskom’s CEO André de Ruyter quit. He has informed board chairperson Mpho Makwana.
Too shredded by the Phala Phala scandal to defend the Eskom CEO, President Cyril Ramaphosa has gone to ground. State Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was not nominated to the ANC NEC and is politically weakened, so he said nothing, too, as Mantashe trashed Eskom and De Ruyter.
Mantashe is Ramaphosa’s key to a second term as ANC President because he is a streetfighter with steel-tipped elbows. Mantashe accused De Ruyter of sabotage as Stage 6 load-shedding gripped the country. South Africa has had almost 200 days of rolling blackouts this year, and Eskom has not communicated a daily status update for days. In November, he called De Ruyter a “policeman” who did not have what it took to run the utility.
De Ruyter resigned after a year ended with units dropping like snowflakes from a Christmas Tree in a warming climate. De Ruyter has had his best year and his worst. Energy and energy transmission reform have finally got into gear, and South Africa’s US$8.5-billion JET Investment Programme was lauded at COP27 in Egypt as best-in-class energy transition thinking.
The former Nampak executive has had a storied career with energy experience at Sasol and took the job as an act of national service in January 2020 and as a critical plank of Ramaphosa’s reform agenda. Three years later, he is out, and so is the grid, which is still coal-reliant. De Ruyter had begun the transition, as the graphic shows.
On December 8, two days after Stage 6 load shedding was announced, Eskom launched a battery energy storage project. In November, the World Bank granted SA a concessional loan to fund the transition from coal to clean fuels. On November 2, Eskom made a huge announcement: a Komati unit would be shut down and repurposed as a renewable energy components manufacturer. It was a swords-to-ploughshares moment which was the apogé of his career at Eskom, now cut short by political attacks.
On October 28, the Eskom updated transmission development plan was released with 53GW of renewables added to the utility’s planned requirement. This would have been key to expanding transmission.
It was a sea-change of a year for De Ruyter, whose team fought almost daily battles with saboteurs. The right-hand side of the chart shows what he was up against. 2022 has been the worst year on record for power cuts in South Africa and what the chart reveals is that every time De Ruyter and his team took a step-change forward, the saboteurs struck.
Between October and December (the period tracked by Daily Maverick), staff and contracted drivers were arrested for picking up high-quality coal and swapping it out for lower-grade ore, diesel theft, or active sabotage. The story has been a constant of his nearly three years at Eskom, and he has had enough. De Ruyter had said previously that Eskom and the country could attribute one or two stages of load-shedding to sabotage.
De Ruyter was a coal man with Sasol, where he ran coal, gas and coal plant operations in SA, China, the Netherlands and Germany. But as he told Daily Maverick’s Gathering earlier this year, the “Stone Age did not end because of a lack of stones”.
The cost of renewable energy has come down substantially, and the world’s energy map is changing fast – the war in Europe and energy crisis notwithstanding. De Ruyter clicked a long time ago that South Africa’s future lies with a radically mixed energy portfolio with renewable energy playing a big role.
He came to Eskom as a Mr Fixit with a history of turning around failing companies. But with hostile politics and a constant hostile refrain to his race, he has thrown in the towel. DM/OBP